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Bethel University Now Offers a B.A. in Art Therapy

Bethel’s newest major is suited for students excited to combine their creative practices with a passion to serve diverse communities in mental health settings.

By Katie Johnson ’19, content specialist

August 28, 2020 | 11 a.m.

"The reason students wanted an art therapy major is because they feel that they want to make art—that they want to work in this creative practice—but they also want to serve others," says Professor of Art Lex Thompson.

"The reason students wanted an art therapy major is because they feel that they want to make art—that they want to work in this creative practice—but they also want to serve others," says Professor of Art Lex Thompson.

In an effort to promote a holistic approach to wellbeing, Bethel University is excited to launch the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Art Therapy. The program is suited for students who desire to use their creative practices to serve diverse communities in mental health settings—such as private practices, hospitals, nursing homes, and schools, among other opportunities. The major was created within the Department of Art and Design in response to students looking for a path into art therapy, according to Professor of Art Lex Thompson. 

One of those students was alumna Carrie Windett ’12, who is currently working as an art therapist in the field. When she was at Bethel, she combined her art major with some psychology classes to make her own art therapy emphasis—along with the help of her professors. “My advisor at Bethel actually helped me open the door to art therapy for myself which has led me to where I am now,” Windett says. “If I did not have that person encouraging and supporting my passion, I may not have followed through.” 

One of the ways Thompson wants to further support students interested in art therapy is by giving them a home in the university. There aren’t many undergraduate colleges in the Midwest with an art therapy program, and Thompson says that Bethel’s will give students a streamlined experience with fellow art therapy students. They’ll take classes like Introduction to Art Therapy, specifically meant to combine theory and practice. Instead of students creating their own art therapy emphasis, there’s now a program designed to get students where they intend to go. 

Through researching for the B.A. in Art Therapy proposal, Thompson talked with graduate schools about what they were looking for in potential candidates, and a number of them said they were excited about students who already had experience in art therapy—students who know what the field is like and really have a desire to pursue this career. “We want to give students interested in art therapy an experience that is really robust and rich and makes them—if they want to go to graduate school—a very attractive candidate,” Thompson says. “The kind of applicant that would not only get in, but maybe get scholarships and be somebody that graduate schools really want in their programs.”

Students gain that valuable experience by completing the internship required for the art therapy program, so they know what it is like working in a hospital or shelter. By the time students graduate from Bethel, they will already have experience serving the particular communities on their hearts—like veterans, senior citizens, children, or people with disabilities. They’ll have first-hand knowledge of the field, and they’ll know why they were created for such a profession.

“Figure out ‘why’ you would want to be an art therapist. Having a strong ‘why’ will help you move through the hard spaces that come with the process of becoming.”

— Carrie Windett ’12, art therapist

As Windett reflects on her time in the field, she appreciates how people embrace their own vulnerability and summon the bravery to give themselves over to the process of art therapy. “I get a front row seat observing the process of someone creating, making nothing into something, that reveals what they need,” Windett says. “There is a lot of mystery within art therapy, but when someone chooses to trust it, powerful healing begins. Every day I am grateful and honored to hold space for another and allow the art to speak for them when words are limited.” 

Throughout his 15 years at Bethel, Thompson can trace some similarities between the students who have approached faculty with an interest in art therapy. These students “wanted to do art,” Thompson says quite simply, but he builds on that statement to describe students interested in something beyond an art or psychology major. “They also really love other people. Then they were super engaged by serving other people. They didn’t just want to create their art. They wanted to create community. They wanted to create relationships. They wanted to make their place better.”

"The reason students wanted an art therapy major is because they feel that they want to make art—that they want to work in this creative practice—but they also want to serve others," says Professor of Art Lex Thompson.

Study art therapy at Bethel.

Does this sound like you? Bethel’s B.A. in Art Therapy is live and ready for you to explore your gifts, discover your creative practice, and serve the communities near and dear to your heart. From mental health counseling to working with dementia and Alzheimer patients—new opportunities arise daily for art therapy graduates. As you learn the fundamentals of art, psychology, healthcare, and education, you will garner the expertise to serve various communities as they cope with trauma, discover who they are, and grow into well-rounded human beings.

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